Growth Hacking vs. Growth Marketing – What’s the difference and which one should YOU do?

    #1 product adoption platform. Quick setup, lasting engagement.
    Start for free >
    See how UserGuiding can help you level up your product experience.
    Talk to an expert >
    #1 product adoption platform. Quick setup, lasting engagement.
    Join 20k+ product people >
    Ready to Boost
    Product Adoption?
    Meet With Our
    Onboarding Experts

    Home / Growth / Growth Hacking vs. Growth Marketing – What’s the difference and which one should YOU do?

    If you and your best friends decide to build a campfire, what would you need? Most simply, you would need a lighter, something to light up quicker than the wood, and obviously, wood.

    What if I told you that building a business is almost the same as building a campfire? 

    Here are the three steps to building a strong campfire:

    1. First, you need a spark, a lighter, matches, anything that is enough to start.
    2. Second, you need to hack the fire by adding smaller things that can burn faster to keep the fire going, just until the wood burns before running out of fuel.
    3. Then you need to add the non-temporary wood to keep the flames bright and strong.

    And these are the three steps to build a strong business:

    1. First, you need an idea that is good enough for the market.
    2. Second, you need a headstart to remain alive within all the competition. In other words, you need to hack your growth to speed things up before you run out of budget. (Growth Hacking)
    3. Finally, you need to have a name in the market, a brand. Something that will sustain. (Growth Marketing)

    Some people think that Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing are similar; some even argue that they are the same in principle.

    I definitely disagree with them.

    I will explain later why, but first:

    What exactly is Growth Hacking?

    growth hacking or growth marketing - what is growth hacking

    As you might conclude from its name, Growth Hacking is engineering (or hacking) your way into rapid growth with minimum spending. Rather than making long-term content or marketing plans, Growth Hackers use creative, easier-to-track, and quicker-to-conclude methods.

    Growth hackers are not only marketers nor engineers; they are strategists and creative minds combined with unusual marketing strategies.

    What makes Growth Hacking such a big deal?

    Instead of relying on the traffic that one single tweet will bring, Growth Hackers would invest in Google Ads or find ways to make the product unique - if possible, just as Airbnb did.

    They could have made an excellent website design or publish new content every day talking about hotels, real estate, and tourism in general to become the best.

    What made Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia - founders of Airbnb - different was that they knew where the market was for their service. They incorporated that market (craigslist) into their product (Airbnb), making it way easier for customers to search and compare properties.

    Airbnb is not the only example when it comes to successful growth hacking. Dropbox had almost no resources to be able to advertise their product to the masses.

    And they were not the only cloud-storage service around when they launched in 2008, so they had to find a way to be preferred.

    Well, they succeeded. Instead of going around the internet and shouting out their names, they simply gave 500 Mb of free storage space to users who invited a friend to Dropbox.

    They used a system called the Referral System to create a win-win situation:

    Every new user would be potential clients who only cost them 500 Mb of cloud space, and users would keep recommending to get more free storage.

    The customers were the key all along, even at the very beginning. 

    ‘’To survive the storm that’s brewing, it’s no longer good enough to be customer-focused — you’ve gotta be customer-obsessed.’’

    Katelyn Bourgoin

    The most exciting part of the story is the cause of this revolutionary idea: they needed an urgent solution since they had a limited budget and didn’t have the time to build links to their website or come up with high-quality content for their blog.

    In my opinion, examples are the best way to fully understand a concept. So without further ado, here are the 25 best growth hacking examples (with categories).

    To top it all, they had a particular skill set that made them different from ordinary marketers. I will get into the details later.

    In conclusion, startups had a good start thanks to Growth Hacking, but would Growth Hacking be enough to remain at the top of the competition?

    When you think of Airbnb, do you think of how they hacked into craigslist, or do you think of the name, the brand?

    What exactly is Growth Marketing?

    Dear ol’ Growth Marketing. Growth Marketing uses long-term solutions for growth such as  SEO optimization, content planning, silent advertising, link building, A/B testing, etc. In other words, it is the old fashion, time-consuming way of marketing, with a little bit of spice.

    Most simply, Growth Marketing is putting the brand as the top priority and getting people from the top to the bottom of the funnel according to the newest methods. Let me explain:

    What makes Growth Marketing such a big deal?

    By far, you might think, ‘’Growth hacking is amazing enough, so why would I need Growth Marketing?’’

    Remember the campfire example at the beginning of the article?

    As soon as you get the crowd to know your product, you need to let them know whose product they’re using. Because when the trend of your hack gets old, what will remain in people’s minds is going to be the feeling, the name, the brand.

    When you think of sneakers, you think of Nike and Adidas, right? I can swear that I bought a better pair of sneakers from my local shoe store, but the excitement of having a pair of Nike’s hits is still different.

    The brand and how to make that brand the best is what Growth Marketers try to figure out.

    Anyone in any branch of marketing knows about the marketing funnel

    Regular marketers attract the target audience and convince them that they are the best solution to their problem. But that is not what marketing is all about now in the era of the internet, especially if you’re a SaaS or B2B company, you can’t knock on doors to sell your product.

    What a Growth marketer does is, guide the person through all the steps of the funnel. They make long-term plans to figure out what the strengths of the company are as well as the weaknesses of it.

    Sometimes, if applicable, they build a blog to inform people about things they want to know.

    Through the blog, they would have sources to get backlinks and SEO optimization.

    Within time, they would have a traffic analysis of their website as well as conversion and churn rates to analyze and compare.

    You get the point.

    Growth marketing is time-consuming. But is it worth the effort? Most definitely.

    ‘’A growth marketer is similar to a guided missile, they will not rest until they find their target metric and destroy it; well in our case, improve it.’’

    Mert Aktas

    Do Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing have similarities?

    Well, of course they do!

    • The process is similar:
      Both growth hacking and growth marketing are trying to adapt to new technologies, software, methods, anything that can catch the customers’ attention. How they incorporate these innovations into their methods changes, though.
    • The goal is the same:
      The goal is to attract new users, turn them into customers, make them loyal, and get them to like and share the product as soon as possible. 
    • The product is the key:
      After all, it is about the company and the product, not what kind of marketing strategy you use that matters in the end, right?

    But this is about it.

    Some people still claim that Growth Marketing and Growth Hacking are the same concept, well then:

    What are the differences between Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing?

    what are the differences between growth hacking and growth marketing

    Finally, we came to the point which I’m most excited about writing. 

    When I see a website or a job description looking for ‘’Growth Marketer (Growth Hacker)’’, I want to stab myself in the stomach. The reason is, they are two different poles of a magnet

    Here’s how:

    #1 - BRAND is everything for Growth Marketers, while Growth Hackers don’t care about the brand at all.

    This might sound a little offensive but hear me out:

    I explained that Growth Hackers want to get quick results and usually have the craziest ideas that would benefit the business. Airbnb hacked into craigslist, Dropbox got known without spending a penny on advertising, PayPal literally paid new users and made a profit out of it, the list goes on.

    So tell me, which one of those used their brand at the beginning of their journey to get recognition?

    But only at the beginning, or in some cases, for a breakthrough.

    You know all three companies very well, you might even be using them. But are you using them now because they had tremendous growth, or do you use them because you know that they are the best among all others? 

    How do you know? 

    Did you try all other possible alternatives? 

    Or did you hear (or subconsciously know) that they are the best brand?

    This is when Growth Marketing kicks in.

    When you think of a product, there is a name that everyone knows. For instance, When I say transportation, you think of Uber. When I say social media, you think of Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

    As I said before, to remain at the top of the competition, you have to have a name in the game.

    That’s why Growth Marketers spend so much time and effort on content building and long-term data analysis.

    And talking about time and effort;

    #2 - Growth Hacking is quick, while Growth Marketing needs a longer timeline.

    I’m not saying that you can hack your growth and turn your fresh startup into Google overnight. 

    But it is a fact that growth hackers seek to get results as soon as yesterday.

    In a way, that is what the whole concept of Growth Hacking is all about semi-instant revolutionary ideas.

    ’Growth hacking is not anti-marketing, it is the evolution of marketing, it is pro-growth.

    Sean Ellis

    Meanwhile, Growth Marketers might be envious because they spend hours per day, weeks per year, to track the benefits of one single article, and that article is not the only article that they’re analyzing.

    Comparison A:

    • Growth hackers spend time on the idea and the execution of the concept. 
    • Growth Marketers spend time on the idea, execution, reports, SEO, connections… The list goes on.

    Comparison B:

    • Growth hackers use methods that will benefit quickly.
    • A single tweet might even be crucial for a growth marketer.

    Comparison C:

    • A method or idea that doesn’t respond as quickly as a Growth Hacker needs can be thrown away quickly.
    • Growth marketers usually act more cautiously in terms of a tactical change.

    And the time that is spent is not the only factor related to time;

    #3 - Growth Marketing needs background data, Growth Hacking dives right into it.

    Since Growth needs to start at one point, you won’t always have five different charts to compare, or five different article categories and a minimum of 20 about each when you’re a fresh blooming startup.

    In order to get into the Growth Marketing phase, you might need to spend some time getting attention and trying a few different methods to have an idea about what suits you best.

    As soon as you get to that point, you can leave the rest to the growth team (if you have one), or more specifically, to the growth marketer.

    Back to the campfire example, can you expect the wood to catch fire without prior work?

    The so-to-say ‘’prior work’’ could be you, or it could be a hack that would save you both money, time, and effort.

    Since Growth Hacking is more about the ‘’perfect idea’’, you can go for it whenever you need it, even at the beginning.

    This doesn’t mean that growth hacking is only to be used at the beginning.

    When Facebook launched in 2004, social media was not as big of a deal as it is now. So they didn’t need to make ‘’an extraordinary entry’’ to the market.

    But as time passed and the number of social media platforms rose, Facebook needed to make sure that it would remain as the lead, so they used a few hacks such as:

    • Incorporating similar features to their closest competitors,
    • Constantly growing and not sticking to ‘’facebook’’ only,

    And so on.

    I kept saying that Growth Marketing requires hard work and patience, while Growth Hackers tend to be quicker.

    So why would anyone walk around the bush when hacking right into it is a choice?

    #4 - Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing require different skill sets.

    Let’s agree on one thing first: no skill is less valuable or important than the others.

    But it is a fact that not everyone is capable of doing everything. Thank goodness that it is not like you have to do everything on your own.

    Back to our topic, the basic skills that Growth Marketing and Growth Hacking require are the opposite of each other.

    But they co-exist, and all are necessary, just like two different poles of a magnet, as I mentioned before.

    A Growth Marketer must be:

    • Patient. Very patient.
    • Planned. To get positive results from a long-term process, they need to be well prepared.
    • Consistent. Not losing the main point and idea over a long time is not easy.
    • A leader. There is a lot to do when it comes to Growth Marketing (Link building, SEO optimization, content writing, content planning, website or product design, etc.) Doing all this stuff single-handedly is almost impossible.
    • Always up-to-date. As well as being consistent in a plan, Growth Marketers need to be able to adapt the steps of the process to the latest developments or revolutions. They need to be aware of the market and the competition.

    At least they don’t have to keep all these things in mind or only on paper. To be up-to-date is not only knowing about rivals, but it’s also about being aware of what might be beneficial to them.

    What I’m trying to say is, there are Growth Marketing Tools that help Growth Marketers that are busy enough already.

    As for Growth Hackers, some of the ‘’must have’’ skills are:

    • Technical skills. This doesn’t mean ‘’they have to know how to code’’; it means they have to know how to use and manipulate the internet - and the customers by doing some magic, aka hacking.
    • Resolution oriented. Focusing on the process is the job of a Growth Marketer. Focusing on the resolution and going for it ASAP is the job of a Growth Hacker.
    • Curiosity and Creativity. Growth hackers must be able to think outside the box. 

    The best Growth Hackers are the inventors of that ‘’box’’ after all (just go ahead and quote this already).

    Were they born with those skills? No. They improved. They learned. They read books, they learned from the experts. It’s not like they are aliens, they dug their way into success.

    I kept referring to one another when I talked about Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing.

    Does this mean that they are an inseparable duo?

    #5 - Neither Growth Marketing nor Growth hacking can be efficient enough on its own.

    should you be growth hacking or growth marketing

    Growth Hacking is a budget-friendly, effective and innovative way to start a business, I think we’re all on the same page about this.

    But as soon as you launch strong, you need to start building the columns of your business to have something to rely on: which is branding.

    I mentioned that Branding is essential to remain strong and Growth Marketing is one of the most effective methods to use during the process.

    But I also mentioned that Growth Marketing needs a basis to build onto, which can be achieved either by a strong budget that will last, or a quicker solution; a hack.

    Also, Growth Marketing ttakes a long, loong time to get to a certain conclusion, and customers tend to get bored quickly. 

    Having some surprises in store for them rather than doing the same thing, and that same thing only would keep your business going.

    For instance, an unexpected update, a new service, or something that the customer didn’t even know that they needed. Again; a hack.

    Growth Marketing and Growth Hacking are of course not the only possible ways to grow your business. You might find substitutions that suit you better.

    But, if used correctly, and co-existentially, they can save you a lot of money, time, and nerve.

    Nice, but which one is the best for your business?

    If you read all the way through this part of the article, you probably have an idea already. 

    And thank you, by the way. I appreciate your time.

    If not, let me summarize:

    You had better start Growth Hacking if:

    • You didn’t even launch yet, or you just launched. To have a head start, and a good impression.
    • It has been a while since you last surprised your users and customers. People love innovations and surprises and they keep your business fresh.
    • You have that amazing idea that you just have to use somehow. Go for it. Get help from a Growth Hacker if you don’t possess the necessary skills. Don’t even think, it’s going to be worth it.

    And you had better start Growth Marketing if:

    • You have a product, but not a strong name in the market. Hey, you better build that brand.
    • You think that you need more sustainable content or data in your product. You need a long-term plan.
    • You have the data, you have the rates, but you need research and someone to conclude from your data. Get help from a Growth Marketer. It doesn't sound that exciting, but not everything in life is fun and sexy.


    To sum up, Growth Hacking and Growth marketing are not the exact same things.

    Even though they share the same goal, they pursue different methods.

    They are also not two completely separate concepts, on the contrary, they compliment each other.

    Growth Hacking aims to get quick results and rapid growth while Growth Marketing relies on deeper research and needs a relatively longer period of time to conclude, and aims for sustainable growth.

    If you are starting a business, or you want to add some spice to your existing business you should go for Growth Hacking.

    If you have a business that has been going on for a while but doesn't have the most solid foundation, you should go with Growth Marketing.

    ‘’Growth is not just a concern of sales and marketing, but of product, engineering and support too. It is this organization-wide commitment to growth that ultimately sets these companies apart.

    Sean Ellis

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Join 1000+ teams
    driving product success at speed

    14-day free trial, no coding needed, 30-day